Though many magicians are “honest deceivers,” a few use their talents to defraud people. The National Association of Bunco Investigators (NABI) defines “fortune-telling fraud” as “a crime designed to financially exploit a victim under the guise of providing assistance. It involves gaining the victim’s complete trust and, then through carefully managed manipulation convincing the victim to give valuables to the suspect.” NABI continues that the victims are usually seeking help for problems involving love, money, or health. The fraud convinces her victim that she has special powers to remove the curse that is causing the problem. NABI warns against the “total psychological manipulation of the victim” by the fraud, who often keeps him isolated and vulnerable.
The anonymous author of the “Gypsy Psychic/Spiritualist Scams” website explains how the “fortune-telling con” works. The confidence artist (mentalist) is a good cold reader who convinces his victim of his actual psychic powers. This author goes on to say that the fortune-teller con entices his victim to go into a trance state. “Trance”, as defined the anonymous author, is “a state of mind a person maintains consistently not because it’s truthful…but because a belief system keeps it in place.” Stage hypnotists assist their “volunteers” to go into and stay in a trance. Nu points out that a mentalist with integrity will also assist the volunteer to come out of her trance. Meanwhile, the fortune-telling con will prod the victim to go deeper into her trance, and to remain there.
The difference between a Bunco artist and an ethical mentalist is “intent.” Though both use secrecy to achieve their ends, the ethical mentalist intends to delight her audience, and expand their notions of how the world works. Meanwhile, the Bunco artist wants to isolate his victim in order to steal her money. He scares his target into believing that only he can remove her “curse.” Through secrecy, the Bunco artist keeps his victim entrapped in her erroneous belief system.